Electronic resources: the present state of systems in UK HE

As indicated above, the need to manage and provide access to electronic resource (separate and together with print resources) is being met by a range of components and systems from a variety of vendors. Most libraries mix and match these pieces together with varying degrees of integration. A list of UK Higher Education institutions with the e-resource solutions they employ is available on the E-resource Management Systems page of this website. Vertcial search/discovery services applications are listed on the main 'LMS and related systems' (HE Systems review) page

E-journal management

There is no dominant provider of solutions. Most libraries are using solutions from their serial subscription agents/e-journal aggregators with Serial Solutions providing the main ‘independent’ (from the LMS vendors) solution. LMS systems can load (or create) e-journal catalogue records for display in the conventional OPAC.

Metasearch

As libraries licensed more electronic resources their web pages became crowded with a baffling array of potential sources for students and researchers to navigate. These resources were not generally catalogued in the LMS and so were not findable via the OPAC. Metasearch products aim to ‘provides a consolidated search environment for remote information resources.’ The leading library vendor product is MetaLib from Ex Libris. ExLibris claims 44 UK customers and the library survey counted 33 libraries using MetaLib (this indicates a bias in the survey response to the larger HEIs). The next largest share was achieved by Google Scholar, which indicates that libraries are looking beyond the vendors of conventional ‘library’ products and services to meet the needs of the ‘library function’. The usefulness of Google Scholar in a library context has been enhanced by its ability to integrate with Open URL resolvers. For example, in 2005, Ex Libris announced a ‘new set of tools to enable GoogleTM Scholar to display OpenURL links to SFX®. With these tools, institutions with the award-winning SFX link server can register with Google Scholar to have their SFX links displayed in Google Scholar search results ’ This facility now goes beyond SFX and Google says it is ‘working with link resolver vendors to make it easy for libraries to participate in this program’. This means that users of Google Scholar can be directed to the ‘appropriate copy’ available from, or under licence to their institution’s library.

Resolvers

Resolvers are therefore key to making best use of scholarly resources acquired or licensed by the library. So we should not be surprised by the relatively high take up of these products. Once again Ex Libris leads the field, in part because they were first to market. They took over the initial development of the Open URL standard itself, (now a NISO standard) created a commercial product (SFX) and undertook an effective marketing campaign to promote the value of the technology.

ERM systems

These function to deliver the same kind of ‘back-end’ functionality (notably the management of the acquisition/licensing and cataloguing) for electronic as the LMS does for (mainly) print resources. The development of ERM systems is example of how commercial development was informed by a specific library initiative –the Electronic Resources Management Initiative (see below) from the Digital Library Federation. DLF members are predominantly from the USA but Oxford University and the British Library are ‘Strategic Members’. JISC itself is a DLF ‘Allied Member.’ The DLF ‘is a consortium of thirty-three members and five allied organizations that are pioneering the use of electronic information technologies to extend library collections and services. We pride ourselves on our ability to concentrate the talent of our librarians and technologists on issues of shared importance. The Electronic Resources Management Initiative (ERMI) is one such collaboration and has proved to be a timely and wide-reaching endeavor, finding a ready audience in libraries, systems vendors, and standards organizations’.

Notwithstanding this input from librarians, UK HE libraries appear to remain unconvinced that these products will deliver a good return on investment. Take-up has been slow and a significant number of libraries report this function is being managed by in house solutions. Innovative Interfaces and Ex Libris are the main commercial vendors for UK HE.

Vertical Search

Vertical search is a relatively new tier in the Internet search industry consisting of search engines that focus on specific businesses. But the number of these search engines being introduced has greatly increased in recent years so its not surprising that the library vendors are adopting this approach. The Library Survey used the following definition. ‘By vertical search we means products that use combined federated/Metasearch techniques and data aggregation (by data harvesting) to provide unified access to the totality (as far as possible) of library resources whether print, electronic, locally held or licensed’. Some library vendors are now directing much of their product development effort to solving this problem. Take up of these products is low, understandably at this stage because they are new and library procurement cycles can be slow. Only a handful of libraries have installed them.

Electronic Resource Management (ERM) systems

In contrast the market for products specifically aimed at managing, providing access to, and delivery of, electronic resources (predominantly e-journals) has yet to mature. It is a more complex and fragmented landscape. The library survey was used to clarify this picture.

LMS vendors were slow to respond to this e-resource need and other vendors such as Serials Solutions, TD-Net and the serial subscription agents and aggregators (EBSCO, Swets, OVID) began to fill the gap. The need to search across multiple (print and electronic) resources spurred the development of ‘Metasearch’ products and again non-library vendors like WebFeat led the way. The requirement to locate an ‘appropriate copy’ (typically the one licensed by the library) of a (typically e-journal) resource was met by linking technologies and components, most notably ‘Open URL Resolvers’ such as Ex Libris’s SFX. All these products and components had, to integrate, to a greater or lesser degree, with the core LMS and this has lead to an increasing use of global (rather than narrowly library) web-based interoperability standards.

LMS vendors either integrated these third party products with their LMS (e.g. SirsiDynix and Serials Solutions) or developed their own components (notably Ex Libris), which they could also target at libraries with a competitor’s LMS. More recently LMS vendors have developed Electronic Resource Management (ERM) systems to do the same job for electronic resources, in terms of the staff management of electronic resources, as the LMSs had done for print. The latest development is what may be characterised as ‘Vertical Search’. Products such as Encore from Innovative Interfaces or Primo from Ex Libris are aimed at providing a ‘complete search and discovery experience that is appealing, sophisticated and easy to use’ or a ‘one-stop solution for the discovery and delivery of local and remote resources, such as books, journal articles, and digital objects .’ and one that ‘leverages new Web 2.0 technologies and practices’. They aim to do better than Google in a library context.